NEWS - Thursday, December 13, 2001

Xbox Online by 6 months

Microsoft:Online gaming to follow Xbox by 6 months

TOKYO, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp (NasdaqNM:MSFT - news) said on Thursday it plans to proceed with online gaming services for its newly launched Xbox video game console within six months of the machines’ first hitting shelves in the United States and Japan.

The Xbox went on sale in the U.S. in mid-November, and Richard Belluzzo, Microsoft’s president and chief operating officer, told reporters in Tokyo it was on track for launch in Japan on February 22.

The U.S. software titan is a new entrant to the video game market, which had been dominated by Sony Corp and Nintendo Co Ltd , and is pinning its hopes on creating an online gaming network for Xbox.

Online gaming promises to let users lock horns over the Internet, playing games against far-away opponents from the comfort of their living rooms.

In March, Microsoft and long-distance phone operator NTT Communications Corp, a subsidiary of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp , said they would ally to plug the Xbox into the Internet, but few details have emerged since then.

"As we agreed, we will focus our alliance on online gaming," Hirohisa Oura, managing director in charge of Xbox operations at Microsoft’s Japan unit, told a news conference.

"And we have said we will start online services for the Xbox six months after its launch in the United States, and the same can be said for Japan."

His comment comes just days after Sony and NTT Broadband Initiative Inc, another subsidiary of Japan’s dominant telecoms carrier, unveiled a detailed plan for an online gaming and entertainment service for Sony’s PlayStation 2 console, set to begin next April.

Online gaming has been a key part of the strategy behind the launch of the latest generation of game consoles, particularly for PlayStation and Xbox, which have been built especially with networking in mind.

"That will be significant part of the Xbox experience," Belluzzo said.

He also shot down reports that Xbox may have to delay its launch in Japan to March.

"The Xbox confusion was caused by me when I was speaking at a similar press conference in Taiwan with regard to things I said about the Europe and Japan launch dates," he said.

"I didn’t think I was confusing, but I guess I was. The Japan launch date of February 22 is unchanged and the Europe launch in March is the same.

The Xbox is slated to hit European shelves on March 14.


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